Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

09 MAY, 2013

David Foster Wallace’s Timeless Graduation Speech on the Meaning of Life, Adapted in a Short Film

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“The real value of a real education … has almost nothing to do with knowledge and everything to do with simple awareness.”

On May 21, 2005, David Foster Wallace got up before the graduating class of Kenyon college and delivered one of history’s most memorable commencement addresses. It wasn’t until Wallace’s death in 2008 that the speech took on a life of its own under the title This Is Water, and was even adapted into a short book. Now, the fine folks of The Glossary have remixed an abridged version of Wallace’s original audio with a sequence of aptly chosen images to give one pause:

UPDATE: The David Foster Wallace Literary Trust exemplifies everything that’s wrong with copyright law. What a shame, this travesty of cultural legacy.

The most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude. But the fact is that, in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life-or-death importance.

Hear the full speech in its sublime entirety, along with transcript and highlights, here, then wash it down with Wallace on ambition and why writers write.

Thanks, Matt

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08 MAY, 2013

Our Objects, Ourselves

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“If one changes internally, one should not continue to live with the same objects.”

Last week’s meditation on the psychology of identity in a material world reminded me of a passage from The Diary of Anais Nin, Vol. 4: 1944-1947 (public library) — the same tome that gave us Nin on the meaning of life, why emotional excess is essential to creativity, and a prescient anecdote of gun control failure.

In September of 1944, amidst the physical and spiritual devastation of WWII, Nin writes in her diary:

The physical as a symbol of the spiritual world. The people who keep old rags, old useless objects, who hoard, accumulate: are they also keepers and hoarders of old ideas, useless information, lovers of the past only, even in its form of detritus?

[…]

I have the opposite obsession. In order to change skins, evolve into new cycles, I feel one has to learn to discard. If one changes internally, one should not continue to live with the same objects. They reflect one’s mind and psyche of yesterday. I throw away what has no dynamic, living use. I keep nothing to remind me of the passage of time, deterioration, loss, shriveling.

And yet we attach enormous significance to objects. But perhaps Henry Miller, Nin’s longtime lover and friend, had it right after all when he observed that “all is change, all is flux, all is metamorphosis.”

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06 MAY, 2013

Love and Art: The Secret to a Romantic Relationship That’s Also a Creative Collaboration

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“Relationships are our greatest learning experiences.”

If you, like me, thought it wasn’t possible to admire the writer-illustrator battery of genius behind the recent gem Lost Cat any more, you’re about to be, like I was, promptly proven wrong. In a recent episode of her award-winning Design Matters radio show, interviewer extraordinaire and Renaissance woman Debbie Millman talks to the talented duo — writer Caroline Paul and friend-of-Brain-Pickings Wendy MacNaughton — about their individual creative evolution, their remarkable collaboration, and the secret of not merely balancing a romantic relationship with a professional one but actually making an art of both.

Here are some favorite highlights of the conversation about the intricacies of creative collaboration, our chronic compulsion for control, our capacity for self-transcendence, and the wonderful Lost Cat — a tender illustrated memoir about the quest to find out where Caroline’s 13-year-old tabby had gone and what it reveals about human relationships and the secret of love.

On mastering the balance of a creative collaboration and a romantic relationship, and the secret of how the two fuel each other:

It took a little while for us to figure out, like in any relationship, how to talk about [our creative differences] without taking it personally, and how to end up coming to the best creative conclusion. … We managed to figure out a system, with structure, and then stick to that — so it took the pressure off, so we could make collaborative decisions in an easier way.

On what Lost Cat teaches us about humanity:

The biggest thing I learned is that you cannot know everything about the creature that you love, and you also can’t control that relationship. And maybe that’s okay — because we can’t control relationships. In fact, if we did control them to the degree that we want, it would probably provide us with nothing. Relationships are probably our greatest learning experiences.

On one of my favorite illustrations from the book and how it captures the inner “Tibby” we all harbor:

On what Lost Cat teaches us about human relationships:

On what true love necessitates:

And what humans are capable of when in love, and what it takes to pull ourselves out of a depression:

Wendy, on designing for the first democratic election in Rwanda and why her ad agency dream job turned out not to be so existentially dreamy after all:

I thought that I could, in advertising, make people ask questions and make them think. And advertising is a fantastic thing where you come up with ideas, but it’s not as much about asking people to think than just telling them what to think.

Wendy on why drawing is like a muscle that bridges hand and brain, and needs constant stimulation to prevent atrophy:

Caroline, who spent several years as one of fifteen female firefighters on San Francisco’s 1,500-person Fire Department and wrote an extraordinary memoir about it, on gender differences in the experience of fear:

If you talk about being scared, you kind of become scared… If you’re a woman, and you’re one of the few, whatever you do reflects on all women.

Caroline on the allure of blending fiction and nonfiction in East Wind, Rain, her scintillating novel about the attack on Pearl Harbor, based on a fascinating true story:

The philosophical moral of the Lost Cat story, read in the world’s best voice:

You can never know anyone as completely as you want. But that’s okay, love is better.

Treat yourself to the soul-warmer that is Lost Cat, listen to the full interview below, and be sure to subscribe to Design Matters on iTunes or SoundCloud for more infinitely stimulating conversations at the intersection of creative culture and philosophy.

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